The fields of social and cultural studies of technology were one of the spectacular academic growth areas in the 1980s and 1990s. Spurred on by a growing awareness that recent innovations in information and communication technologies were bringing about a new knowledge-based society, the academic community re-committed itself to understanding a classic philosophical question. This was the ‘question of technology’ made famous by Heidegger and others: the question of the relationship between technology and the wider culture and society in which it is embedded.
Consequentially, the recent upsurge of academic interest in contemporary technological innovations has primarily concerned itself with understanding technology’s role as a facilitator of underlying social and cultural changes. Technology’s involvement in the processes of ‘globalisation’, ‘aestheticisation’ and the emergence of ‘postmodern’ social forms has been foregrounded.
As such, the question of technology can be seen as having framed a new academic agenda in contemporary philosophy. This new ‘technology consciousness’ has provided a context and climate within which new questions about how people behave, organise and interact as the result of the implementation of a panoply of new technologies.
One of the pedagogic outcomes of this new consciousness has been the appearance of a new tributary in the philosophical curriculum; an interdisciplinary area that has become known as Science and Technology Studies (STS). STS aims to ‘prize open’ the ‘black box’ of science and technology in order to show how science and technology shape and are shaped by both society and culture. Big questions are at stake here; in particular the question of relation between the individual, culture and technology at gthe beginning of the 21st century.
Can we say that the question 'what is technology' is the ultimate question for our times?